Not only is the Palestinian political decision splintered amongst factions, but the Palestinian story is too divided, misused and, at times, disfigured.
The crisis of the Palestinian narrative, however is relatively recent, thus, through decided and concentrated efforts it can be remedied. It was the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993 that shattered the relative cohesiveness of the Palestinian discourse, as it also weakened and divided the Palestinian people.
But how are we to reclaim the clarity and integrity of the Palestinian story if the Palestinian political viewpoint is still beholden to the self-seeking political aspirations of competing factions?
Surely, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and the dominant branch of his Fatah party are not keen on giving the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees a central spot in their political program. To the contrary, Abbas actually stated that he has no interest in going back to Safad, the Palestinian town from which his family was expelled in 1948.
Such an attitude is expected from the ‘moderate’ Palestinian leadership, whose language and political outlook is still bound by the limits of Washington’s-long espoused ‘peace process’; However, it’s this kind of political expediency that has ravaged the Palestinian narrative, which, in its current form is hardly a reflection of the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people.
Until the Palestinian leadership is itself reclaimed by the Palestinian people as a platform for true democratic expression, it is the responsibility of the intellectual to safeguard and present the Palestinian story to the world in the most authentic, egalitarian way possible.
Indeed, the story of Palestine is not the story of factions; the latter are but a byproduct of a tumultuous and multifaceted history – colonialism and resistance, foreign political and ideological influences and the fierce competition of various social movements.
Essentially, the story of Palestine is the story of the Palestinian people, for they are the victims of oppression and the main channel of resistance, starting with the creation of Israel on the ruins of Palestinian villages in 1948. If Palestinians didn’t resist, their story would have concluded right there and then, and they too would have disappeared.
Those who admonish Palestinian resistance, including armed resistance, have little understanding of the psychological ramifications of resistance – for example, the sense of collective empowerment and hope amongst the people. In his introduction to Frantz Fanon's 'Wretched of the Earth", Jean-Paul Sartre describes violent resistance, as it was passionately vindicated by Fanon, as a process through which "a man is re-creating himself."
Recreation of the self
And indeed, Palestinians, for 70 years embarked on that journey of the recreation of the self. They resisted, and their resistance in all of its forms molded a sense of collective unity, despite the numerous divides that were erected amongst the people.
Relentless resistance, a notion now embodied in the very fabric of Palestinian society, denied the oppressor the opportunity to emasculate the Palestinian, rendering him or her a hapless victim, a wandering refugee without valor and without a plan.
The collective memory of the Palestinian people should, therefore, build the cornerstone of the creation of meaning: of what it means to be Palestinian and what the Palestinian people are, and stand for as a nation – and why they have resisted all of these years.
A new articulation of the Palestinian narrative is required today more than any other time in history.
The elitist interpretation of Palestine has failed, as Oslo too proved worthless, a tired exercise in empty clichés aimed at sustaining American political dominance in Palestine as well as in the rest of the Middle East.
A new articulation of the Palestinian narrative is required today more than any other time in history.Ramzy Baroud
Not only did Abbas and his men try to muzzle the political will of the Palestinian people, and falsely claimed to represent all Palestinians, they have also robbed Palestinians of their narrative, one that unites the fellahin and the refugees, the occupied and the shattat (diaspora) communities into one distinct nation.
It is only when the Palestinian intellectual is able to repossess that collective narrative that the confines placed on the Palestinian voice can be finally broken. Only then can Palestinians truly confront the Israeli Hasbra and US-Western corporate media propaganda, and, at long last, speak unhindered.
And, for the story of the people to be told accurately and fairly, the storyteller must be a Palestinian. This is hardly the outcome of any veiled ethnocentric sentiment, but because facts often change in the process of interpretation, as explained by late Palestinian professor Edward Said.
Said wrote in ‘Covering Islam,’: “.. facts get their importance from what is made of them in interpretation… for interpretations depend very much on who the interpreter is, who he or she is addressing, what his or her purpose is (and) at what historical moment the interpretation takes place.”
Of the many interpreters of the facts pertaining to Palestinian history, neither the Palestinian historian nor the Palestinian people are at the heart of the story. This predisposition is not only pertinent in the case of Palestine, but an ailment that has afflicted Middle East history, politics and journalism for decades.
Middle East historiography is “a stepchild of orientalism,” wrote Dr. Soha Abdel Kader, where “Middle East history bears the imprint of its birth up to the present in its use of sources, its methodology, and its isolation.”
Concurrently, 'history from below' has also received much attention among Palestinians. ‘Adab al-Sijun’ – ‘Prison Literature’ – has remained a staple in most Palestinian book stores and libraries until this day.
‘History from below’ contends that while individuals or small social groups (ruling elites and their benefactors) might prompt certain historical events, it is largely popular movements that significantly influence long-term outcomes.
The First Palestinian Intifada was the model demonstrating this assertion. The constant calls for a ‘Third Intifada’ by many Palestinians – although at times lacks understanding of how collective movements are mobilized – demonstrate the kind of astute awareness that only Palestinians are ultimately capable of determining their own reality.
There are other obstacles as well, lead amongst them is an unwavering attempt by Zionist (and many western) historians and institutions to replace the Palestinian historical narrative, whenever it exists, with a Zionist one.
In the Zionist Israeli narrative, Palestinians, if relevant at all are depicted as drifting nomads, an inconvenience that hinders the path of progress – a duplicate narrative to the one that defined the relationship between every western colonial power and the resisting natives, always.
Such clarity in the Zionist political discourse was consistently translated to the kind of military aggression that ethnically-cleansed nearly a million Palestinians from their land in 1947-48 and continues to drive the colonial settlements enterprise in the Occupied Territories.
It also continues to be championed by historians, media and political scientists without much quarrel. In his 2004 interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israeli historian, Benny Morris’ views on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians exemplifies the depth of moral depravity of the Israeli narrative: “I don't think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands...There was no choice but to expel that population.”
The Palestinian intellectual must now step up. It is sorely needed that, we, as Palestinian writers, historians and journalists assume the responsibility of reinterpreting Palestinian history, internalizing and communicating Palestinian voices, so that the rest of the world can, for once, appreciate the story as told by its wounded but tenacious victors.
Ramzy Baroud’s newly-released book ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ tells the story of Palestine through the ongoing struggle of the refugees- Published by Pluto Press, London, 2018 and distributed in the United States by University of Chicago Press
- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London, 2018). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.